What Else Would You Have Me Be?

Chapter 12

There was this look that Hardison got on his face sometimes, whenever he was close to noticing something, starting to make the connection between two seemingly random pieces of data and solve the case. It was the same expression he got whenever he walked past a bakery.

It was that look, more than anything, that sent Eliot stepping back to lean against the dresser by the television.

He just wasn't sure if it was because he'd been the reason for the expression, or because apparently, he'd been paying enough attention to notice.

"So what took you guys so long?" Parker was dumping out the melted contents of the ice bucket in the sink, but paused by the door to glance between Eliot and Tara.

"He made us stop for burgers," Tara smirked as her eyes darted down to his belt. "Just as well, he's looking kind of skinny, don't you think?"

"Eliot," Sophie's tone was chiding, but Hardison fielded it for him. "You need to eat."

"Trust me, Sophie, if he's skinny 'cause he ain't been eating, it's better than being skinny because he's actually been eating, in there."

"Whatever." Eliot shrugged, shifting away in case Nate or Sophie thought to notice the fact that his belt was two notches tighter than it usually was. Hardison's computer, sitting on the table, was a distraction, and anyway, he'd been starting to wonder if there was any more information out there, anything they were missing out on having this little reunion party.

Parker went out into the hallway as Sophie set to unwrapping a few more plastic cups, telling Tara to pass her the bottle and asking Hardison if he wanted a soda, if he'd taken his meds, did he need to eat.

"I'm not a complete invalid."

"It's ah, best if you just let her do her thing," Nate smirked, opening the door for Parker, who'd knocked this time, probably because it was easier than picking the lock with a bucket of ice in her hands.

"So now what?" Eliot finally asked, once Nate passed him a drink. Resisting the urge to down it in one, he gave them a minute to get their thoughts together.

"Well," Nate shrugged, glancing at Tara, who sipped at her drink and checked her phone before speaking.

"Right now, things are getting hot for Arlington. A fifth witness, Deputy Sharon Hanson, has stepped forward to amend her report. The State police and the FBI are working the case, and the witness testimonies will hold for a little while, but it's not a nail in the coffin. Enough time's elapsed that there will be suspicion that they've had the chance to get their stories straight."

"We've still got the recording of the audio feed from Arlington's ranch," Nate said. "Any way we can release that to them?"

It sounded good. There was only one problem. "Won't they be suspicious of where it came from?"

"Right," Nate glanced over at Hardison. "Any ideas?"

"I don't know, man, I could-" he broke off, frowning as he thought. "It's a basic audio signal. All we'd need to do is transfer it from JARVIS to their system and backlog it to that night. But there'd be no way to account for the fact that they would've missed it before."

"Okay, we go low tech. We just transfer it to a recorder, and get that recorder into evidence."

"Same question still applies- why wouldn't anyone bring it forward?" Sophie perched on the arm of the chair. "If we hand it over to the deputies, we'd be forcing a lot of attention onto them that they might not stand up to."

"Which is exactly what we want, as long as Arlington's the one we give it to."

"That might work," Tara said. "I just got an email from an Agent Taggert, and it indicates that they're one signature away from obtaining a warrant. He's requesting that the State Police be on hand to help serve it tomorrow evening."

"Taggart?" Eliot didn't know if this was good news, or very bad. "You mean, as in. Taggart and McSweeten?"

Realization dawned on the others' faces, all but for Parker, who glanced confusedly between them.

Nate, though, grinned and stood. "I'm impressed," he said to Tara, who just smirked knowingly. There was a story there, but she wasn't telling. "Parker, you're the only one who nobody really knows yet, one attempt on your life notwithstanding. This is good, this is-"

Eliot shook his head. They were getting off track, and Nate was already heading for the door. "What about the recording? Won't Arlington just erase it?"

"Not if he thinks it'll clear him."


Alec flipped channels again, settling for now on some shark documentary, and tried not to concentrate on Eliot's presence, over by the window. Eliot was staring out into the parking lot below, watching for threats, or maybe just for the girls or Nate to come back, and he was frowning.

"What's up?"

"Anyone on comms yet?"

"No," Alec dropped the remote on the bedspread and glanced at the communications monitor up on his laptop screen, but it was still quiet. "And I'm taking that to mean that the girls are out enjoying their lunch and planning on bringing me back something disgusting and green while Nate, I don't know, takes over North Korea or something. They're fine. Any trouble, they'll let us know."

Eliot nodded, but barely seemed to be listening.

"You expecting trouble?" It was a stupid question. Eliot always expected trouble.

"Not sure," Eliot admitted after a while, running a hand through his greasy hair, wincing at the feel of it. "Probably. You can't say things haven't been lookin' suspicious. Hey," he turned from the window with a frown. "Where's my gear, anyhow?"

"Don't know. They didn't check me out of my room, so maybe your key still works in yours. Otherwise, it's probably in Nate's."


"You gonna go shower?"

Eliot turned to the window again. "In a while. When the others get back."

"Ain't like I'm going anywhere."

"That's not what I'm worried about."

"Okay, man. Suit yourself."

Alec watched a great white breach the surface of the water and was about to comment on it when he realized that Eliot was still staring resolutely out the window, arms crossed, back to the room.

Sharks on television weren't really much of a novelty, but still. The window faced the back of the parking lot, and there was no way Eliot had line of sight on the street or three of the four entrances. If anything was coming, Eliot probably wouldn't see it from where he was standing.

His watch was beginning to look less like awareness and a lot more like avoidance. There could've been a lot of reasons for it, or maybe none at all, but it was starting to make Alec nervous.

That, at least, he could work with.

"You wanna sit down, or something? Your lurking is a bit disconcerting. I swear, man, you're hindering my recovery."

Eliot's brow quirked, but he didn't roll his eyes. Instead, he pulled the chair out from the desk. What're we watching, here?"




Eliot wasn't sure he liked the idea of them all eating out at the same place, even if it was in the restaurant attached to the hotel, but he'd been sick of the hotel room for hours, and Hardison had been threatening grave actions against several countries if they hadn't let him come along.

It would've been safer just to confiscate the computers, but there was no way to lock him in while the rest of them ate. There was a big booth in back, wrapping around a table. He and Parker took the edges while the others scooted in between them. Parker was keeping an eye on the kitchen door, he could see the front entrance easily, and they were set far back from the windows. It was as ideal as they were going to get.

"So. Getting back to the reason we're all still here," Sophie twirled her straw in her fingers a little distastefully. "What are we going to do about Jeanine Santiago? How do we get to her?"

Parker crunched on her mouthful of ice. "I could get myself arrested."

"No." Eliot and Hardison shook their heads vehemently, but Nate only grinned.

"Thanks, Parker. I don't think that will be necessary. Santiago will be cleared, thanks mostly to Tara, once Arlington and Miller go down.

"Miller? I know he's bad news, but." Hardison grimaced, rolled his shoulder back. His stitches must've been bothering him. "You connect him to Santiago?"

"Miller logged the shiv- twice."

"Kind of a reach, though," Eliot said. "He does work there. And it's not like he showed up on tape at Arlington's. We don't have anything on him."

"You notice a lot of women working the block while you were in there?" Nate didn't wait for Eliot's reply. "Same goes for the women's section. No men work the block. Miller shouldn't have been there."

"Could've been called in if it went down loudly and badly enough. And seeing as how it happened in the middle of a riot-" The waiter was coming with their food, so he fell silent as plates were passed around.

"True," Nate said, once the waiter was gone. "But once the riot was contained, he would've gone back to his post. He wouldn't have been in charge of the paperwork, and he wouldn't have been the one to log the evidence."

The steak wasn't anything special. But it didn't taste like it was minutes away from rotting, and Eliot had beer to go with it. There was baseball playing quietly on the television over the bar, and this was really about as good a night as he could've hoped for, even if the Diamondbacks were beating Cleveland. Then Nate started talking again.

"So. Parker, you're going to tip off McSweeten, pass him a copy of the jail's duty roster for the jail the day Santiago was framed."

Parker sat up, talking with her mouth full. "Right now?"

"Tomorrow. They're going to be serving Arlington's warrant, you'll just happen to stop by with some information."

Parker blushed, then frowned in irritation. "Won't he be suspicious if I just come in out of nowhere?"

"Yes," Sophie cut in. "So you need to misdirect that suspicion. If he thinks you've got important leads, he'll have questions about them- why you've got them, where they came from. If, on the other hand, you hand him something that looks unimportant, he'll start wondering why you bothered. And, well, since McSweeten is a little…"

"Sweet on you," Hardison teased, and Sophie nodded.

"Yes. He'll look at the evidence you've handed him, carefully, making sure that he's not wrong in his little romantic whimsies. Since you'll also be handing him a copy of the evidence log, he'll see the discrepancy with Miller's name right away. As long as you don't tell him what that discrepancy means, he'll crack it on his own."


Nate had determined that with the threat Donovan posed, they needed to move things around. He'd already gotten rooms at another hotel down the highway- one suite for himself, Parker, and Sophie, and a room for Alec and Eliot.

After dinner, Parker went ahead to scope the place out, wrap her head around the entrances and exits. Nate and Eliot were packing up their rooms, and Sophie had stayed behind to help Alec deal with his mess. Or so she said.

Alec learned very quickly what her ulterior motives had been in offering.

"So, Hardison. I hope you don't mind my asking," Sophie trailed off, awkwardly shoving cables into a bag. "But are you still considering leaving us once this job is completed?"

Alec hadn't been much help with the packing anyway. He shoved a pair of socks back in his duffel and leaned against the wall to ease the ache in his stomach.

"Not really," he decided, not sure how much she knew already. "I was, but. Lately. I think things are going to be okay."

"Have you talked to Parker about it?"

"What?" Parker? "No. Why?"

"There was an attraction there, wasn't there? At least for a little while? I haven't asked, didn't want to pry, but it's changed, hasn't it?"

"Yeah. But that was a while ago." He hadn't realized that he'd effectively backed himself into the wall, hadn't left himself much of an escape. "You know how it goes. Mutual lack of understanding and awareness of same." Alec snorted, but it sent a twinge down into his gut and it wound up sounding like a sigh, which was probably why Sophie was looking at him so sympathetically.

"She does like things bright, shiny and tangible. Emotions aren't her specialty."

"You've got that right. But no. She's not the issue. Never was."

Sophie eyed him skeptically for a moment, before folding one of his shirts and tossing it in the bag. She smiled. "Eliot, then. With a little bit of Nate thrown in for good measure."

Alec smirked, knowing that he was deflecting. "How do you know you're not the reason?"

"Because you've behaved towards me the way you've always done. And Eliot…"

"What about him?"

"I don't mean to imply anything, but. You're more watchful, recently. And there's the small fact that you took off- without warning the rest of us, mind you- and got yourself thrown in jail. Just to make certain that he was all right. You have to admit, that's not really your usual style."

"What's not?"

"I don't know, the impulsiveness? The risk? The grand, romantic gesture?"

"Grand romantic- what? No. Ain't like that." Alec was suddenly on edge, and the feeling didn't go away, even when Sophie relented.

It didn't dissipate, either, once she'd left.


Eliot glanced back at the parking lot. Sophie and Hardison weren't here, yet, and Nate was already handing him a key and heading inside.

"Hardison's moving slow, it'll take him a while. They'll be fine. Might as well get settled in and enjoy the peace and quiet before he gets here with all his bells and whistles."

Eliot shouldered his bag and followed him inside. Instead of turning down the hall to the room he'd be sharing with Hardison, though, he followed Nate back to the suite. Parker was in the kitchenette eating cereal, and going through what looked like Sophie's belongings.

There were only two bedrooms, Eliot noted, but didn't mention it. That wasn't what had him concerned, anyhow.

"Have you guys been able to find any connection between Miller and Moreau?"

"Ah, no," Nate admitted, setting his laptop bag down on the table. "There doesn't seem to be one. So we're taking Moreau out of it for the time being."

"Just like that? I mean, Donovan was part of Moreau's network."

"Yes, but Moreau's still out of play. We took out the head, and completely hobbled his network, but the people that made up that network, they're still out there." He glanced, puzzled, at Parker, who was folding Sophie's clothes into meticulous stacks. "And hitters for hire have to be hired, right?"

"Sure, but guys in this line of work, they're smart. Moreau goes down, they scatter. They're not going to keep to the same patterns they used when working under Moreau. They're not friends." Eliot knew he was, in a sense, answering his own questions, but he needed to get his head around all this before it came back up to bite them in the ass.

"That's fine, because we're not concerned about them," Nate reasoned. "We're interested in whoever it is who hired them."

"Nate, man, I just said-" He sighed, irritated. "These guys, they work alone."

"Same as all of you, once upon a time." Nate finally seemed to notice what Parker was doing, and for a moment looked as if he was going to do something, before deciding against it. "Eliot? That first job. Why did you come work for me?"

Eliot thought back. "I still owed you for that blind eye in Toronto." Nate smirked. "But mostly because the money was good."

"Exactly. Someone with a bankroll can find people to work for him. Sometimes," he gestured at the Parker, "he can even get them to work together."

Eliot nodded, then remembered something else he'd been meaning to ask. "That note. It talked about a law-abiding citizen that we screwed over."

"What about it?"

"Any idea who he meant? 'Cause I've got nothing. It's weird, right?"

Nate shrugged. "I'm sure we'll get a lead sooner or later."

It wasn't what Eliot had meant, not at all. He shoved his hands in his pockets as he tried to find the words, but Parker stole them before he could get them out.

"Well, we only go after bad guys, don't we?"


Alec had known Eliot would be in the room once he got back. Didn't mean he was ready for it.

Or, well, more accurately, didn't mean he was ready to walk in to the slightly humid room, listening to the shower going off.

"Just me," he called out as he closed the room's door behind him, and the shower started up again.

Fuck, Eliot Spencer was naked on the other side of one door and one thin shower curtain. Possibly with soap running down his chest, the backs of his legs. Less than ten feet away.

Alec shook himself and made it twenty, dragging his stuff to the far bed. Eliot had already claimed the one closer to the door, and right now, Alec had never been so thankful for his overprotective streak.

Ain't seen it much, neither, his brain reminded him.

That ain't fair, he reminded his brain.

His brain was threatening to retaliate with a frame-by-frame of his insane conversation with Sophie, but then the water was shutting off again. He hurried to get himself seated on the bed, get the remote in his hand, flip the television on, anything, just to prove that he wasn't-

Wasn't doing whatever it is he hadn't been doing.

Eliot's hair was damp when he came out a few moments later, sweatshirt and jeans and bare feet that Alec would've made a crack about, if he'd had one ready. Instead, it was Eliot who got the first word in.

"Golden Girls? Really?"

Alec looked at the television, seeing it for the first time, and smirked.

"Well, you know. Bea Arthur is one sexy-"

"Don't even finish that sentence man, really."

Alec winced. Of course Eliot wasn't a Deadpool fan. Didn't read comics, didn't get it.

Him and Deadpool, though. Would be a fight worth watching.

He flipped the channels for a few minutes longer, then gave up, shutting it off, not realizing it for the mistake that it was until the room went silent.

Now there wasn't anything to do but sit here and watch Eliot comb his hair, while his own brain made all sorts of unreasonable accusations and suggestions.

It was barely nine, and shaping up to be a very long night.


This wasn't a big deal. They'd had to bunk up before, once or twice when the hotels had been full. Texas. Chicago. But it had been a while.

Not so long that he found himself having to argue over grabbing the bed closer to the door, though, and Hardison hadn't opened the blinds.

Maybe that was what was up with him. He knew that this wasn't like those other times.

They were rooming together because in all likelihood, someone- Donovan- was going to try and make a move very soon. Maybe tonight.

Hardison looked like he knew it, too. Lying in bed wide eyed, trying to distract himself with his computer, keeping quiet. Avoiding the hell out of him.

Which was for the best, really.

He might've had to tell himself that a few times, but it wasn't as if he had any better ideas. He wasn't really planning on even considering any that did crop up. Because what then? He could apologize- again- for shit Hardison had said he'd already been cleared for. He could ask him about what he was up to, but then Hardison might actually start telling him, and they'd be here all night. He wanted to grab the ice bucket, but there wasn't any alcohol in the room.

And while he knew the liquor store down on the corner was probably still open, he wasn't about to fuck up by stepping out on a run.

There'd been a book in his bag, he dragged it out and couldn't remember having read it, though there was a receipt from the airport shoved in the middle. It wasn't much more interesting now, either, if the way his eyes kept getting drawn to Hardison's screen were anything to go by.

He forced himself to listen to the hotel's noises a while longer. The ice machine down the hall, the elevator closing down at the end, kids laughing down in the pool, faint but there. No footsteps outside the door, not yet anyway.


He should've left the television on, gotten some noise in here. It was messing with his concentration.

And he needed to concentrate. Donovan wasn't going to find himself, and Eliot wasn't helping, sitting in his bed and reading, wearing those glasses that Alec had half-thought were for disguise. He'd had to stop himself seven or eight times, now, from asking about them.

Even he could admit that he had issues, sometimes, with prioritization.

He was too startled not to glance up when Eliot spoke. "You alright? You haven't said anything in four hours."

Alec probably would've known how to respond if Eliot was looking at him, if he could get a read on what was going on, but Eliot's eyes were trained on his book.

He ignored the fact that Eliot's hair had dried all frizzy, stamped on the impulse- again- that had him wanting to reach out and find out what it felt like.

His brain was being randomly suicidal, picking up all sorts of unimportant crap. Like the fact that he hadn't heard any pages turning, not for a while now.

"Ah, yeah." Now that the silence had been broken, there wasn't any harm in shifting to a more comfortable position. "Just working. Trying to figure out who the hell Donovan is. What his game is, you know?"

This caught Eliot's attention. He looked up. "Any luck?"

"Maybe. I'm still missing a few pieces, got JARVIS running remotely, trying to pinpoint what's missing." He shrugged, glanced at the closed window. "You think he's on his way here?"

"Don't know," Eliot admitted, finally setting his book aside. Alec was probably imagining the shadows under his eyes. It was hard to tell, with Eliot looking away again. "It would be risky. He has to assume that we're on to him by now, that we're expecting him. So he's probably letting us cool off."

"That why you're still awake?"

"I'm still awake 'cause of your keyboards clackin' and making all that noise," Eliot smirked. "Seriously, man. You should turn that thing off, get some sleep or somethin' while you can."

There were a few things wrong with that plan. One, he'd be out a distraction- and the fact that researching a hitman had been relegated to the status of distraction was not lost on him. On the plus side, he'd be able to take the painkillers he'd been holding off on.

Cause yeah. Getting stoned and careless is exactly what you want right now. You sure you don't talk in your sleep?

Thankfully, JARVIS was starting to send document IDs to his laptop. There was still work to be done. "Meet you halfway," he offered, and shut off the lamp on the bedside table.

Eliot cast him a searching look before shrugging and doing the same. "I'm turning in. You hear anything, just scream like a girl or something."


Eliot lay awake for a long time, listening to Hardison work and feeling too wired to sleep, too awkward to pretend not to.

It was nearly two in the morning before he heard the rattle of a pill bottle. He'd turned towards the door, but he could hear the keystrokes slowing, now, and the blue cast of the wall suddenly going dark. Hardison was turning in, finally.

Eliot wondered if he was good enough to recognize the point when Hardison finally fell asleep, but there were no distinctive sounds to guide him.

Nothing much more happened until breakfast, though Eliot was pretty sure he'd slept, somewhere in there.


"So Donovan's a hired gun, and he comes in, makes us think he's after Eliot, and arranges to have Hardison attacked, instead of just taking him out when we're busy out here. Why?" Nate was busying himself with his eggs, and Eliot hadn't had nearly enough coffee yet, but he fielded this one.

"Because that was where we were, so he adapted. It's what I'd do."

"Right. We put a kink in his plan, and he got around it. Made an arrangement with Miller- that's probably how he got his hands on the earbud, and definitely how he got the note passed across. He then anted up by trying to kill Parker. Again, right there, he's being careful, indirect."

"Makes sense," Hardison finally said, finally showing up with his plate, clearly more exited about the buffet than anyone in their right minds would be. "I've been searching him out. Donovan's real name is Alexander Larson, but I've got him under five aliases that the feds don't even know about. He's wanted in almost every country but the US."

"Probably American, then," Eliot explained when Sophie, picking at her toast, asked why. "You don't shit where you eat if you can help it." He frowned. "Which only means that the payment, whatever it is, is worth it. Even after he's paid off Miller. Unless he's blackmailing him."

"Given what Miller's been up to, he probably has plenty of material," Sophie agreed. "But either way, if Larson is the one running the game, that would explain why he didn't simply go back and blow your psychic act."

Eliot shrugged. That fact should've been bothering him before now.

Hardison stared at them worriedly for a moment before continuing. "Uh. Right. So anyhow, this all looks like it's in line with his M.O., which is to say, well. The reason he's never been extradited is that he's never been proven to have a connection to any of the hinky cases he's been suspected in. Far as I can tell, he's more likely to poison your drink before the waitress brings it over to you, and be out the door before you take your first sip."

"Right. So. At this point, we still have to assume that any and all of us are his target," Nate blinked at the weary glares he was receiving from all sides. "On the plus side, he's not listening in any more."

"So how to we go after him?"

"We don't. We wait for him to come to us."


It took most of the morning to get the audio recording of the shooting at Arlington's ranch prepped for backlogging into the police department's property and evidence, but it only took Parker and Sophie forty-five minutes to drop it and come back.

"I told them that I thought there'd been a mistake," Sophie said, taking off her badge. "They were very helpful, and discovered that, lo and behold, someone working the night shift must've been tired, transposed two digits of the case number. They even made me a copy. It really was remarkably easy."

"And I've got the numbers changed in the system. When they find that there's problems playing the digital file, they'll go for the cassette backup."

"Tara checked in about an hour ago," Nate said. "Sounds like Arlington's lawyer was very interested in overhearing that there were rumors that Gremminger's release may have been premature."

"No kidding," Alec replied. "Looks like she just made it to property and evidence, and- yeah, too bad, she's short a signature, they can't release the tape to her until she gets the paperwork straightened out. Soon as Arlington's defense hears she's been poking around, they're going to file their own request."

"Which needs to be completely hobbled, based off the fact that their client's been arrested for murder

Parker glanced up from the tangle of nylon on the floor. She'd been going over her gear for an hour now, inspecting every minute scratch. "How much time do we have?"

"We're gone in twenty," Nate confirmed.


Eliot adjusted his earpiece as he climbed into the back of the van. They'd parked it on the ranch next to Arlington's, just over the side of the hill.

"You sure the landowners aren't coming back?"

"No, man. They're in Tempe. Daughter's wedding, we own this place." Hardison was already powering up his computers, getting monitoring set up. The tracker screen, Eliot could make sense of. They were on the other side of the hill, Tara and Parker's car was pulling up the drive, and Nate and Sophie's car were still ten minutes out.

"Hardison? How're we doing?" Nate's voice came over as soon as comms were on line.

"We've got visual, Eliot's…"

"We've got two exit points I can see," Eliot cut in. "Other than the driveway, but the terrain looks good, long as you remember what four wheel drive is for. I still don't think you guys need to stop in, though."

"He's right," Hardison agreed. "Kind of a risk, all us eggs, one small basket."

"Something goes wrong, we need to be able to respond immediately," Nate said. "I don't want to be half an hour out and hearing gunshots on the line."

"I don't want to hear any gunshots, period," Sophie corrected him. "We're just here as backup."

"Tara, you're our eyes. Keep them on Parker no matter what."

"I hear you," Tara said. "We're pulling in now." On the fifth cruiser's camera, Eliot could see the sedan pulling up and Tara getting out. Parker followed her, file folder clutched to her chest. "Excuse me," Tara was saying to the first officer she found. "I'm. We're looking for Agent McSweeten?"

"Up on the patio, is she-"

Parker flashed her badge to the officer, and both of them were waved through.

"Guys, guys, I need to hear what's going on inside,"

"Radio's preset to their frequency," Hardison reminded him, already typing madly in another program, one of several that Eliot didn't recognize, as he zoomed in on Parker and Tara.

Eliot realized he was hovering, and sat down on an equipment case, eyes on the screen, watching Hardison work more than anything. He was good, Eliot knew as much, but he rarely saw him in action. Warning Nate about another cruiser about to pass them on the road in, feeding Parker enough cover information about the field office she'd been reassigned to.

"Anything I can do?" He asked, after about three minutes spent listening to McSweeten's pathetic attempts to chat up Parker.

"Nah, man. I got it," Hardison muttered, not even glancing back. His voice sounded surprised. "Thanks, though."

"You'd think that framing someone for murder would be made easier by virtue of the fact that they'd actually been the murderer," Sophie was muttering to Nate before announcing that they were pulling in.

As expected, the officers stopped their car at the end of the driveway, and Nate and Sophie slipped into their church personas as they rolled down the windows to talk to them and explain that they were there to discuss the rehabilitation program.

"You're kidding," Nate was saying, surprised by the news. "I can't believe it. Arlington? You sure you've got the right guy?"

"That's what we intend to find out," the officer admitted. "I'm sorry, I can't let you up there right now."

"I understand," Nate said, which was true, given the fact that if they got much closer, Taggart, up ahead and talking with two suits, would probably be able to ID him. Thankfully, Taggart was keeping his eyes on the door of Arlington's house, or, probably more specifically, his partner and his partner's crush. Nate did manage, however, to get the officer going on a tangent about the weather, thereby justifying the fact that Sophie was watching the same exchange Taggart was.

"Okay, Parker,' Hardison cut in. "You were out on family leave. A sick aunt in New Jersey. She's fine, but…" Eliot's attention shifted, then, from what Hardison was saying to how it actually sounded, coming not only through the earpiece, but also from two feet away.

Fuck, this thing had been his lifeline while he'd been locked up, but he hadn't even realized what he'd been missing. The sound on the line was clear, but almost tinny. None of the warmth of his voice filtered through.

He hadn't even thought to miss it at the time, but sitting two feet away and hearing it? Much better. Even if it was about the only thing he was good for, stuck in here.

"Okay, Parker," Sophie was saying. "Lean towards him, just a little bit, as you hand the file over."

"He's got it," Hardison confirmed. "Nate?"

A moment later, Parker was going for her phone, answering.

"I need you back at the field office pronto. There's been a break in the Stewart case, I need you on a plane to Ohio ASAP. And don't pretend I didn't notice that you're jutting in on a case that's not yours. If it's that crush of yours aga-"

Parker slammed the phone shut, and it didn’t really matter if McSweeten heard Nate or not, he was smiling at Parker and then frowning, a bit, as she hurriedly made her excuses and muttered something about her nosy boss and all but bolted back to the car. Tara followed closely behind.

McSweeten watched as the car wound back down the driveway, right past the car where Nate and Sophie were still waiting, but he wasn't looking at them.

It wasn't until Parker and Tara were dots on the road that he glanced down at the file folder in his hands.

"Guys, I think we've got him."

"Okay," Nate replied. "We're pulling out. Good job, everyone."


"Seriously, I can't believe that went off so damned easy," Alec said, shutting the last of the systems down and crawling up into the passenger seat as Eliot moved them back down the service road towards the ranch gate. "They never go this smooth."

"He's not in jail yet," Eliot muttered. "And Donovan's still out there."


"Whatever," Alec eased back into the seat, contemplating the painkillers in his pocket and deciding against them. They wouldn't kick in by the time they got back to the hotel, anyhow.

Eliot nodded, keeping his eyes on the road, scanning the cars and trucks ahead.

"We're at least five minutes behind everyone," Alec pointed out. "Ain't gonna see them."

"Not just looking for them," Eliot muttered, apparently overcompensating for the fact that he'd been more or less relegated to Alec's chauffer for this part of the job.

"Oh. Right. So much for the post-job buzz. Killjoy."

Eliot smirked, then, eased up off the gas a bit. A few minutes later, he even turned on the radio. Classic rock, but at least it wasn't country.

They were getting close to the city limits; the traffic was getting heavier, here. Rush hour, it turned out, didn't go away because someone arrested a dirty Sheriff. They were just pulling into the hotel parking lot when Eliot's phone rang, but by the time he could've answered, there wasn't a point.

Nate was standing in the open door of the car, pale and sweating and horrified. He was also alone, the passenger side door hanging obscenely open, gripping his phone tight enough that Alec could see his whitened knuckles from here.

Eliot didn't pull in, just slammed on the breaks and opened the door. Nate waved madly towards the street, his voice actually scared.

"Larson's got a gun, and he's got Sophie. Silver Maxima, license plate ends with TRB, just go!"


Chapter 11 ~~~~~~~~ Back to Leverage ~~~~~~~~~ Chapter 13



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